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Original Investigation

The Study of Clear Cell Renal Cell

Carcinoma with MR Diffusion
Kurtosis Tensor Imaging and Its
Histopathologic Correlation
Guangyu Wu, MD, Zizhou Zhao, BM, Qiuying Yao, BM, Wen Kong, MD, Jianrong Xu, PhD,
Jin Zhang, PhD, Guiqin Liu, MD, Yongming Dai, PhD

Rationale and Objectives: The objective of this study was to compare the performance of diffusion kurtosis tensor imaging and diffusion-
weighted imaging in the characterization of clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) and their correlations with tumor histopathology.
Materials and Methods: Ninety-one patients diagnosed with ccRCC who underwent diffusion kurtosis tensor imaging were included
in this study. Fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, radial diffusivity, axial diffusivity, mean kurtosis (MK), radial kurtosis (Krad), and
axial kurtosis (Kax) data were produced. A nuclear grade of 1–4 (G1–4) was assigned for each case based on the Fuhrman grading
system, whereas tumor histopathology was characterized by the nuclear-to-cytoplasm ratio, the cell nuclei count, and the cell volume
Results: All of the metric values except for Kax and fractional anisotropy could be used to discriminate G1 vs G3, G1 vs G4, G2 vs
G3, and G2 vs G4, whereas MK and Kax could be used to discriminate G3 vs G4 (P < 0.05). Moreover, the MK and Krad values ex-
hibited better performance in differentiating G2 from G3 (P < 0.04 compared to the other metrics). The nuclear-to-cytoplasm ratio was
positively correlated with the MK, Krad, and Kax values (P < 0.001) and negatively correlated with the mean diffusivity, radial diffusivity,
and axial diffusivity values (P < 0.001), whereas the cell volume fraction and the cell nuclei count did not correlate with any metric examined.
Conclusion: The kurtosis metrics were superior to the diffusion metrics in grading ccRCC.
Key Words: Clear cell Renal cell carcinoma; diffusion kurtosis tensor imaging; histopathologic correlation.
© 2018 The Association of University Radiologists. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

INTRODUCTION treatment of RCC (2,3). Accurately identifying the tumor grade

in ccRCC by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) would

enal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most lethal of the
provide a potential advantage in treatment decisions in the
urologic malignancies and comprises various sub-
future, as well as a useful modality for related research fields.
types, among which clear cell renal cell carcinoma
MRI is a noninvasive technique used to diagnose renal tumors.
(ccRCC) accounts for the majority (70%). Different ccRCC
In particular, diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) can be used
grades exhibit diverse biological behaviors and variable clin-
to further characterize biological tissue structures by measur-
ical outcomes (1). Meanwhile, minimally invasive techniques,
ing the diffusion of water molecules (4–6). Previous studies
such as percutaneous radiofrequency, cryoablation, micro-
on renal tumors have shown that the apparent diffusion co-
wave therapy, and high-intensity focused ultrasound ablation,
efficient (ADC) value derived from DWI signals may provide
have been suggested as feasible alternatives to the surgical
a quantitative method for differentiating benign from malig-
nant tumors (7) and identifying the histopathologic degree of
Acad Radiol 2018; 25:430–438
ccRCC (8). However, the performance of DWI is limited
From the Department of Radiology, Renji Hospital, School of Medicine,
Shanghai Jiao Tong University, No. 1630, Dongfang Road, Pudong, Shanghai because of the confounding overlap of broad ADC ranges
200120 (G.W., Z.Z., Q.Y., J.X., G.L.); Department of Urology, Renji Hospital, (9,10).
School of Medicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China (W.K.,
J.Z.); MR Collaboration, United Imaging Healthcare, Shanghai, China (Y.D.).
Conventional DWI assumes that water diffusion has a Gauss-
Received August 27, 2017; revised October 13, 2017; accepted October 20, ian distribution. However, because of the microstructural
2017. Dr. Guangyu Wu and Dr. Zizhou Zhao contributed equally to this article. complexity of tissues and cells, including cell membranes, in-
Funding Source: This work is supported by the National Natural Science
Foundation of China (81601487/81371622). Address correspondence to: tracellular organelles, and water compartments, the diffusion
J.X. e-mail:; G.L. e-mail:; J.Z. e-mail: of water molecules tends to deviate from a Gaussian distri-
bution (11), thereby limiting the effectiveness of conventional
© 2018 The Association of University Radiologists. Published by Elsevier Inc.
All rights reserved.
DWI. Kurtosis is a dimensionless statistical metric for quan- tifying the non-Gaussianity of an arbitrary probability

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Academic Radiology, Vol 25, No 4, April 2018 DKT IMAGING AND DWI IN CCRCC

distribution (12), and diffusion kurtosis tensor (DKT) imaging images with obvious artifacts, (2) antitumor therapy and a biopsy
is an extension of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) that quan- performed before MRI, (3) unavailability of dynamic contrast-
tifies non-Gaussian water diffusion by acquiring data for at enhanced (DCE) MRI data, and (4) solid components that
least two nonzero diffusion gradient factors (b values) in at were difficult to characterize (eg, a cystic lesion with mural
least 15 independent directions. The kurtosis metrics (ie, the linear enhancement in DCE MRI). The present study was
mean kurtosis [MK], axial kurtosis [Kax], and radial kurtosis approved by our institutional review board, and the require-
[Krad]) and the conventional diffusion metrics (ie, the mean ment for written informed consent from patients was waived.
diffusivity [MD], axial diffusivity [Dax], radial diffusivity [Drad],
and fractional anisotropy [FA]) can be derived from DKT
imaging data simultaneously. The Kax and the Krad are par- MRI Protocol
allel and perpendicular to the main direction of diffusion, MRI was performed on a 1.5-T magnetic resonance (MR)
respectively, whereas the MK is the average kurtosis over all scanner (uMR 550; United Imaging Healthcare, Shanghai,
diffusion directions (13). Accordingly, DKT imaging may be China) with a commercialized 12-channel body phased-
more suitable than DWI and DTI for evaluating microstruc- array coil. Conventional sequences included axial T1-
tural changes in tissues. DKT imaging has offered numerous weighted in- and out-phase imaging, axial T2-weighted
diagnostic possibilities in the liver, kidneys, and prostate gland imaging, and axial and coronal fat saturation fast spin echo
(14–17). Although a recently published study indicated that T2-weighted imaging. DKT was conducted based on a con-
it is feasible to use diffusion kurtosis imaging (DKI) to assess ventional DTI sequence with three b values in 32 directions.
the ccRCC grade (18), that particular study did not use a Multiphase DCE MR images were acquired at 20, 45, 120,
tensor-based method, which precludes the evaluation of the and 180 seconds after intravenous administration of
Krad and the Kax. The value of DKT imaging in the assess- gadopentetate dimeglumine (Magnevist; Schering, Berlin,
ment of ccRCC has not yet been comprehensively reported. Germany; total dosage = 0.2 mL/kg, flow velocity = 2.5 mL/s)
The purpose of our study was to explore the value of the dif- using axial three-dimensional fat saturation T1-weighted spoiled
fusion and kurtosis metrics in the characterization of ccRCC gradient echo. Detailed MRI protocols are listed in Table 1.
with different grades and to correlate them with the cytoar- All patients underwent surgery within 1 week after the MR
chitectural differences in tumor grades. scan.


Imaging Analysis
DKI data were processed using Diffusional Kurtosis Estima-
From June 2015 to June 2016, 135 consecutive patients were tor (version 2.5.1; Medical University of South Carolina,
suspected to have RCC and had undergone MRI, includ- Charleston, SC, USA), and images were processed using ImageJ
ing DKT imaging; among these patients, those diagnosed with software (version 1.49b, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda,
ccRCC were included in our study and retrospectively evalu- Maryland, USA). Metric maps were calculated for the MK,
ated by two experienced radiologists (with more than 5 years Kax, Krad, MD, Dax, Drad, and FA (19).
of experience) who were blinded to the pathologic results. The region of interest (ROI) was placed within the solid
The exclusion criteria were as follows: (1) poor-quality DTI tumor area on the DCE images. The ROI was either circu-

TABLE 1. Protocols of Magnetic Resonance Sequences

T1-Weighted In-phase or T2-Weighted T2-Weighted Diffusion Tensor Contrast-enhanced

Sequence Opposed-phase Image Imaging Imaging Imaging Imaging
Scan plane Axal Axial Coronal Axial Axial
TR/TE 180/2.1, 4.4 2308/79 1500/85 3300/57 6/2
FOV (cm) 38~42 38~42 42 38~42 38~42
Thickness (mm) 5 5 4 5 2.5
Spacing (mm) 1 1 0.4 1 0
Matrix 512 × 512 512 × 512 512 × 512 128 × 128 512 × 512
NEX 1 3 1 2 1
Bandwidth 62.5 44 83.3 125 125
Fat saturation None Yes None Yes Yes
Flip angle 80 90 90 90 15
Other b Values: 0, 300, 600
Number of directions: 32

FOV, field of view; NEX, number of excitations; TE, echo time; TR, repetition time.

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WU ET AL Academic Radiology, Vol 25, No 4, April 2018

Figure 1. A 47-year-old man with G1 clear cell renal cell carcinoma in the left kidney. (a) T2-Weighted image, (b) non–contrast-enhanced
T1-weighted image, and (c) contrast-enhanced T1-weighted image acquired at 45 seconds. Mapping of the (d) mean diffusivity, (e) mean
kurtosis, (f) radial diffusivity, (g) axial diffusivity, (h) radial kurtosis, (i) axial kurtosis, and (j) fractional anisotropy. Regions of interest were
drawn in the tumor areas and in the normal renal cortical and medullary areas in the contralateral kidney.

lar or elliptical, with an area of 30–120 mm2. ROI placement Image-Pro Plus software (version 6.0; Media Cybernetics, Inc.,
was avoided in necrotic and cystic regions identified with con- Washington, DC). Adaptive histogram equalization and a color
ventional MRI sequences (T2-weighted imaging and DCE intensity threshold were used to segment darker-stained cell
MRI). For comparison, an ROI with a similar size was also nuclei (Fig 2) to automatically obtain the nuclear-to-
placed in a healthy portion of the renal cortex and medulla cytoplasm (N/C) ratio, the cell nuclei count, and the cell
in the contralateral kidney and in the corresponding upper volume fraction (CVF) in 10 high-magnification (400×) fields.
or lower pole if the tumor bulged remarkably outside of the
contour of the affected kidney. None of the ROIs were po-
Statistical Analysis
sitioned on the boundary between the cancerous and normal
parenchyma to avoid partial volume averaging. The values MedCalc Statistical Software (version 15.6.1; MedCalc Soft-
of the diffusion and kurtosis metrics within an ROI were re- ware bvba, Ostend, Belgium) was used for all statistical analyses.
corded (Fig 1). Lesion sizes were defined as the longest All metrics were expressed as the mean ± standard devia-
dimension on T2-weighted images. All ROI-related mea- tion. The intra- and interobserver agreement of all metrics
surements were performed twice with an interval of 3 days was evaluated using the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC)
to assess intraobserver agreement by two radiologists (with more (20). An ICC greater than 0.75 was considered to represent
than 5 years of experience in abdominal MRI) who were good agreement (21). A receiver operating characteristic curve
blinded to the pathologic results. analysis was used to assess the ability of the diffusion and kur-
tosis metrics to distinguish normal renal parenchyma from
ccRCC and the different grades of ccRCC. A simple linear
Histologic Results
regression analysis was performed to calculate the Pearson cor-
After surgery, the histologic specimens were sectioned and relation coefficient between all metrics and changes in tumor
stained with hematoxylin and eosin for subsequent exami- histopathology in the individual lesions. P < 0.05 was con-
nation by light microscopy. A single uropathologist (with 10 sidered to represent statistical significance.
years of experience in uropathology) who was blinded to the
previous MRI findings reviewed all histologic slides (400×)
using an optical microscope (Nikon Eclipse E 600; Nikon,
Osaka, Japan). Images were then digitally captured, and a Twenty-nine patients were proven to have a renal tumor other
nuclear grade of 1–4 (G1–4) was assigned for each case based than ccRCC (angiomyolipoma: n = 8, oncocytoma: n = 2, pap-
on the Fuhrman grading system (17). Histologic analysis was illary RCC: n = 10, and chromophobe RCC: n = 9) and were
performed without prior knowledge of the MRI results by thus excluded from the study. A total of 106 patients were
an experienced pathologist (8 years of experience in histol- diagnosed with ccRCC. Patients with poor-quality DTI images
ogy). Tumor histopathology was analyzed based on the digital with obvious artifacts (n = 5), patients who underwent anti-
images of the stained histologic slides of each renal lesion using tumor therapy and who were biopsied before undergoing MRI

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Academic Radiology, Vol 25, No 4, April 2018 DKT IMAGING AND DWI IN CCRCC

Figure 2. Tumor histopathology analy-

sis for cases of clear cell renal cell
carcinoma with different grades. Histo-
logic slides (400×) were stained with
hematoxylin and eosin, and tumor cell nuclei
were automatically segmented using adap-
tive histogram equalization and a color
intensity threshold: (a) grade 1, (b) grade
2, (c) grade 3, and (d) grade 4. (Color
version of figure is available online.)

(n = 3), patients who did not have DCE MRI data (n = 3), (P = 0.039 and 0.017 vs MD; P = 0.042 and 0.026 vs Drad;
and patients with solid components that were difficult to char- P < 0.001 vs the other metrics). It is also worthwhile to note
acterize (n = 4) were excluded. Thus, the final cohort comprised that the differences in the ability of MK and Kax to distin-
91 patients (63 men [mean age, 60 years; age range, 26–85 guish between G3 and G4 were also statistically significant
years] and 28 women [mean age, 61 years; age range, 24– and superior to those of the other metrics (P = 0.010 and 0.007
85 years]) with an average age of 60.7 years (age range, 24– vs MD; P < 0.001 vs the other metrics). For G1 vs G2, al-
85 years) and an average tumor diameter of 24 mm (diameter though MK and Kax exhibited slight improvements over the
range, 8–93 mm). The pathologic results of all patients in our other metrics, the results did not reach a satisfactory diag-
study cohort were obtained and included grades 1 (n = 21), nostic level. The corresponding receiver operating characteristic
2 (n = 43), 3 (n = 19), and 4 (n = 8). plots are shown in Figure 3. Table 4 presents the changes in
Table 2 shows the ccRCC diffusion and kurtosis metrics tumor histopathology and the correlations between tumor his-
and the inter-reader agreement for each parameter. The intra- topathology and the diffusivity and kurtosis metrics. The N/C
and interobserver ICCs of all metrics calculated on the basis ratio was positively correlated with the MK, Krad, and Kax
of the reader’s two measurements were good, ranging from values and negatively correlated with the MD value, whereas
0.86 to 0.983. Therefore, all outcomes were based on the first the CVF and the cell nuclei count were found to have no
measurements of the reader. obvious correlations with any DKT imaging or DTI metric
The results of the differential normal renal parenchyma and examined.
different ccRCC grades are shown in Table 3. For the normal
renal parenchyma, one patient was excluded because of con-
tralateral renal atrophy. The MK, Krad, Kax, and FA values
were significantly higher in the medulla than in the cortex, A previous study demonstrated the ability of the MK to detect
whereas the MD, Drad, and Dax values were significantly diffusion properties among phantoms with different degrees
higher in the cortex than in the medulla. Upon comparison of structural changes, which was not reflected by the MD,
of the ccRCC and normal renal parenchyma, the MD and indicating that the MK may be a more specific indicator of
Dax values were significantly lower in the ccRCC tissue than tissue microstructural complexity (13). DKI has been pro-
in the normal renal cortex and medulla; however, the MK, posed to have potential for demonstrating the non-Gaussian
Krad, and Kax values showed opposite results. The differ- behavior of water diffusion in the evaluation of renal tumors
ence in the Drad between ccRCC and the normal medulla (15,16,18). However, because diffusion kurtosis is a tensorial
was not prominent. In the discrimination of different ccRCC quantity, the previous study used a non–tensor-based method,
grades, the MD, MK, and Krad could be used to differenti- a proposed nonlinear least squares fitting procedure with DWI
ate ccRCC in terms of G1 vs G3, G1 vs G4, G2 vs G3, and data with a multi-b value, instead of a tensor-based method,
G2 vs G4, whereas both the MK and Krad showed superior which raises several issues, namely, the precision and
performance in differentiating G2 vs G3 compared to the MD accuracy in the metrics estimation. Moreover, the

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WU ET AL Academic Radiology, Vol 25, No 4, April 2018

CNC, cell nuclei count; CVF, cell volume fraction; Dax, axial diffusivity; Drad, radial diffusivity; FA, fractional anisotropy; Kax, axial kurtosis; Krad, radial kurtosis; MD, mean diffusivity;
non–tensor-based method precludes the possibility of evalu-

Intraobserver Agreement
Interobserver and
ating the Krad and Kax values, which can provide information
of diffusion kurtosis in a particular direction in addition to
the MK value. To our knowledge, the application of DKT
imaging in the present study is the first to evaluate all kur-
tosis metrics for the grading of ccRCC.
Generally, tumors with higher grades have worse progno-
ses. The previous investigation by Rosenkrantz et al. revealed
that the ADC values of high-grade ccRCC (ie, grades 3 and
4) were significantly lower than those of low-grade ccRCC
2.78 ± 0.37
0.89 ± 0.24
0.93 ± 0.36
0.84 ± 0.18
2.23 ± 0.35
3.87 ± 0.70
0.35 ± 0.09
(ie, grades 1 and 2) (22). A study by Yu et al. (10) analyzed

the differences in ADC values between every pathologic grade

of ccRCC in detail, and the results showed that the ADC
values decreased with increasing pathologic grades from 1 to
4 with significant differences between them, except between
grades 1 and 2 and between grades 3 and 4 (13). However,
3.55 ± 0.57
0.70 ± 0.14
0.67 ± 0.20
0.70 ± 0.15
3.02 ± 0.51
4.62 ± 0.79
0.28 ± 0.07

in our study, the results showed that it is still challenging for

the diffusivity and kurtosis metrics to differentiate G1 from

G2. Moreover, the value of diffusivity metrics was limited

for discriminating G3 vs G4, which was in agreement with
the results of a previous study (13). For the differentiation
388.53 ± 129.19

between G1 and G2, a potential explanation might be that

2.47 ± 0.72
1.17 ± 0.48
1.10 ± 0.46
1.22 ± 0.39
2.08 ± 0.70
3.35 ± 0.82
0.30 ± 0.19
0.37 ± 0.16

0.63 ± 0.18
TABLE 2. Diffusion and Kurtosis Metrics of Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma and Normal Renal Parenchyma

the nuclear features are rather similar in these two situa-


tions, and slight differences in the size of the nuclei may not
lead to notable changes in tissue complexity, rendering it dif-
ficult for metrics to discriminate between the two grades.
Moreover, the MD values in tumors would be affected by
403.55 ± 115.80

several factors, and the potential information regarding dif-

1.58 ± 0.50
1.89 ± 0.42
1.73 ± 0.50
1.79 ± 0.31
1.16 ± 0.44
2.33 ± 0.67
0.30 ± 0.10
0.57 ± 0.10

0.67 ± 0.14

fusion may be concealed by the use of a Gaussian model. As


such, the MD may not be a good choice for characterizing

the changes in tumor histopathology or, consequently, for
tumor grading. The MD, MK, and Krad were useful in the
discrimination of G1 vs G3, G1 vs G4, and G2 vs G4, in-
dicating that although the kurtosis metrics can provide added
375.17 ± 120.88

MK, mean kurtosis; NA, not applicable; N/C, nuclear-to-cytoplasm ratio.

value or new information beyond what can be inferred from

1.92 ± 0.70
1.53 ± 0.39
1.50 ± 0.32
1.33 ± 0.42
1.45 ± 0.64
2.75 ± 0.88
0.32 ± 0.09
0.54 ± 0.13

0.61 ± 0.14

the conventional diffusivity metrics, the differences may not


reach statistical significance in circumstances in which there

is a limited number of subgroup cases. In fact, variations in
molecular crowding and viscosity among different intercel-
lular components would affect the MD at the intracellular level
397.54 ± 85.710

The Kax is defined as the kurtosis measured along the di-

2.75 ± 0.49
0.97 ± 0.30
0.94 ± 0.31
1.13 ± 0.31
2.39 ± 0.45
3.49 ± 0.61
0.29 ± 0.17
0.33 ± 0.11

0.63 ± 0.18

rection parallel to the principal diffusion direction (ie, the first


diffusion eigenvector), whereas the Krad is defined as the

average kurtosis measured in the plane perpendicular to the
first eigenvector. The MK is the average of the kurtosis along
all directions of a densely sampled sphere (24). The MK, Kax,
377.67 ± 191.38

and Krad can reflect the degree of diffusional kurtosis, yet the
2.80 ± 0.55
0.90 ± 0.31
0.81 ± 0.29
1.03 ± 0.27
2.41 ± .049
3.60 ± 0.71
0.30 ± 0.07
0.24 ± 0.09

0.65 ± 0.22

physical meaning of the MK, Kax, and Krad relative to cell


properties and histologic details remains a matter of debate,

as the precise value of each parameter should be different. In
our study, compared to the MD, the MK and Krad were better
at differentiating G2 vs G3, whereas the MK and Kax were
better at differentiating G3 vs G4, which may be attributed



to the fact that the MK can reflect the specific aspect of mo-


lecular water diffusion known as “complexity,” which could

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TABLE 3. Comparative Analysis of Diffusion and Kurtosis Metrics Between Tumor and Normal Parenchyma and Between
Tumors with Different Grades

MD MK Krad Kax Drad Dax FA

Cortex vs medulla 0.880 0.766 0.710 0.696 0.887 0.824 0.712
P Value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001
ccRCC vs cortex 0.910 0.842 0.818 0.924 0.893 0.899 0.538
P Value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 0.379
ccRCC vs medulla 0.587 0.661 0.616 0.819 0.521 0.707 0.681
P Value 0.043 <0.001 0.007 <0.001 0.617 <0.001 <0.001
ccRCC (G1 vs G2) 0.535 0.585 0.634 0.640 0.519 0.503 0.636
P Value 0.640 0.258 0.064 0.077 0.966 0.799 0.072
ccRCC (G1 vs G3) 0.846 0.895 0.946 0.686 0.870 0.806 0.581
P Value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 0.044 0.001 0.001 0.383
ccRCC (G1 vs G4) 0.954 0.981 0.981 0.968 0.958 0.889 0.579
P Value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 0.492
ccRCC (G2 vs G3) 0.799 0.898 0.904 0.608 0.821 0.736 0.662
P Value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 0.203 <0.001 0.005 0.055
ccRCC (G2 vs G4) 0.919 0.967 0.950 0.944 0.953 0.865 0.617
P Value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 0.279
ccRCC (G3 vs G4) 0.639 0.796 0.650 0.839 0.683 0.589 0.528
P Value 0.231 0.022 0.195 0.010 0.114 0.443 0.811

AUC, area under curve; ccRCC, clear cell renal cell carcinoma; Dax, axial diffusivity; Drad, radial diffusivity; FA, fractional anisotropy; Kax,
axial kurtosis; Krad, radial kurtosis; MD, mean diffusivity; MK, mean kurtosis.

TABLE 4. The Correlation of the Diffusion and Kurtosis Metrics with Tumor Histopathology

MD MK Krad Kax Drad Dax FA

r −0.474 0.543 0.560 0.438 −0.507 −0.433 −0.092
P <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 0.387
r −0.074 0.022 0.026 −0.019 −0.075 −0.073 −0.081
P 0.487 0.834 0.804 0.862 0.483 0.490 0.447
r 0.039 −0.050 0.005 −0.053 0.045 0.014 −0.066
P 0.715 0.637 0.961 0.615 0.669 0.892 0.534

CNC, cell nuclei count; CVF, cell volume fraction; Dax, axial diffusivity; Drad, radial diffusivity; FA, fractional anisotropy; Kax, axial kurto-
sis; Krad, radial kurtosis; MD, mean diffusivity; MK, mean kurtosis; N/C, nuclear-to-cytoplasm ratio.

be caused by bizarre, multilobed nuclei with heavy chroma- best performance in tumor diagnosis, whereas the Kax and
tin clumps and increased areas of spindle cells in G4 that did Krad are defined to specifically address the direction-
not exist in G3 (25), as well as increasing complications of dependent kurtosis and would lose generality for tumor cases.
the cytoplasmic constituents with increasing grades. Al- The FA lacked significance in differentiating tumor grades.
though the performance of kurtosis in different directions may The known fact that the FA in the kidneys depends on the
differ, the MK in the evaluation remains stable. It is well rec- patient age and gender (27) may act as a confounder in the
ognized that the diffusion directions inside tumors are highly evaluation of the FA for grading ccRCC. Meanwhile, the re-
heterogeneous (26). We posit that the MK should exhibit the striction of anisotropy in diffusion to similar degrees in the

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WU ET AL Academic Radiology, Vol 25, No 4, April 2018

Figure 3. Receiver operating characteristic plots of diffusivity and kurtosis metrics in different clear cell renal cell carcinoma grades. (a)
G1 vs G2, (b) G1 vs G3, (c) G1 vs G4, (d) G2 vs G3, (e) G2 vs G4 and (f) G3 vs G4. Dax, axial diffusivity; Drad, radial diffusivity; Kax, axial
kurtosis; Krad, radial kurtosis; MD, mean diffusivity; MK, mean kurtosis.

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Academic Radiology, Vol 25, No 4, April 2018 DKT IMAGING AND DWI IN CCRCC

solid region of different grades could also be an appropriate In our study, 600 s/mm2 was chosen as the highest b value
explanation for the result. in our DWI protocol. Higher b values probed in DKT imaging
However, the MK was shown to be a promising imaging reflect a different population of restricted spins (diffusing within
marker for this differentiation. smaller pores), and the diffusion properties of non-Gaussian
The differences in the diffusivity and kurtosis metrics between factors become more significant as the b value increases. As
ccRCC and normal renal parenchyma were also assessed. The the K value represents a deviation from a Gaussian model of
MK, Krad, and Kax values were higher in the ccRCC tissues water motion, using DTI data collected with high b values
than in the normal medulla and cortex, and it is easily un- (within the appropriate range of maximum b values for DKT
derstandable that a malignant tumor has a more complex imaging) should increase the robustness of the K estimates.
structure that could be reflected by the kurtosis metrics. For Despite the fact that in DWI (low b values), the diffusion is
the diffusivity metrics, in agreement with a previous study (15), assumed to be approximated by the first terms of the Taylor
significantly lower FA, MD, and Dax values, as well as lower or cumulant expansions of the signal, and as such, diffusion
Drad values, were found in the ccRCC than in the normal in low b value can be considered “Gaussian,” and the fact is
renal cortex. In contrast, we found no obvious difference in implicit that they will reflect restriction as will the kurtosis
the Drad between the ccRCC and the normal medulla; ac- tensor, although it will be the second-order term in the ex-
cording to previous studies, it is possible that radially oriented pansions. Moreover, using lower b values can save time and
vessels, tubules, and collecting ducts in the medulla contrib- provide a better signal-to-noise ratio for DWI, especially when
ute to the decreased diffusivity metrics, potentially explaining using a 1.5-T scanner. However, whether DKT imaging with
our results (28–30). In addition, regarding the differences higher b values (probing smaller dimensions) will provide ad-
between the normal cortex and the medulla, the kurtosis metrics ditional information is unknown and requires further
were higher in the medulla than in the cortex, which was exploration.
compatible with the knowledge that the renal medulla has a There are some limitations to our study. First, the study
more complex structure and that the restriction of water dif- was performed using a 1.5-T scanner. Although a recent study
fusion by the walls of collecting tubules and ducts greatly demonstrated that the diffusivity and kurtosis metrics mea-
deviates the diffusion distribution from the Gaussian form. We sured with DKI at 1.5 and 3.0 T are strongly correlated and
also found higher FA and lower MD, Drad, and Dax values typically differ by only a few percent, which supports the ro-
in the medulla than in the cortex, which may contribute to bustness of the DKI results with respect to field strength in
corticomedullary differences in the structures of the vessels, the human brain (31), its validation for application in ccRCC
tubules, and collecting ducts. requires further investigation. Second, we did not compare
Because histologic examination is the standard reference for our results with the prior fast diffusion kurtosis approach (18).
ccRCC diagnosis and grading, the diagnosis of ccRCC using However, as the literature (32) has demonstrated good agree-
diffusivity and kurtosis metrics was also evaluated in terms of ment between the MK derived from a tensor method and a
tumor histopathology. A previous study (11) that explored nontensor method in an animal model of acute stroke, we
the ability of the MD and MK to detect diffusion properties believe it can be used for reference to the comparison between
among phantoms with different degrees of structural changes, the tensor method used in our study and the nontensor method
demonstrated that the MK may be a more specific indicator used in the former study (18). Moreover, nuclear grading was
for tissue structural complexity, which is not reflected by the based on the highest-grade area identified within the tumor
MD. Thus, we further explored the relationship between kur- but was dependent on the extent of sampling of a given tumor.
tosis metrics and ccRCC tumor histopathology features. Further research focusing on this topic is needed to explore
According to the Fuhrman grading system (25), nuclei in higher the true value of DKT imaging in discriminating different grades
tumor grades are larger and show a more irregular appear- of ccRCC.
ance, leading to increases in the N/C ratio with increasing
tumor grade. However, the CVF did not change dramati-
cally, suggesting that the molecular motion of water becomes
more restricted because of decreasing extranuclear space as DKT imaging is feasible for demonstrating the non-
tumor cells proliferate and microstructural complexity in- Gaussian behavior of water diffusion in ccRCC and provides
creases within the tumor. The correlation between the kurtosis better performance than conventional DWI in grading ccRCC,
metrics and the N/C ratio may reflect physiological and mor- which demonstrated that DKT could be a promising method
phologic alterations associated with ccRCC because kurtosis for characterizing ccRCC in terms of the tumor microenvi-
metrics may be related to the degree of microstructural com- ronment and reflecting both the microstructural changes
plexity, indicating microstructural changes in ccRCC. However, and complexity of the tumor tissue. We hope that our study
it would be premature to conclude a cause-and-effect rela- will serve as an extension of previous studies on normal
tionship. The mechanisms underlying the differences in the kidneys and provide preliminary information for the further
alterations of kurtosis metrics with ccRCC grades have yet study of applying this new technique in various malignant
to be determined, and the relationship between restricted water and benign renal masses, as well as in differentiating RCC
diffusion and microstructural complexity remains unclear. subtypes.

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WU ET AL Academic Radiology, Vol 25, No 4, April 2018

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